Modeling Workshop – Day One

Plenty of ups and downs for my first day. There is a short summary at the end if you’d rather not read through the whole thing.

The beginning of the day had a cool vibe to it. People new to the workshop weren’t quite sure what to expect and those of us who have returned were jabbering on about how it will change your life. The cool thing is that despite any difference in experience, we’re all teachers and we love to talk shop. We’re all here for the next three weeks because we want to get better at what we do, so there is an instant common bond. At times, I pity the poor workshop leaders who have to get us back on track so that we can get something concrete done. We really aren’t that different from our kids. Most of the morning ended up being filled with administrative tasks and introductions.

This workshop is really three workshops running concurrently: 1) a first year physics workshop (I took this back in 2008.), 2) a first year chemistry workshop and 3) an advanced workshop (the one I’m in this year). The advanced group is a mix of about 18 teachers, some who have taken first year physics course, others who have taken the chemistry one. We did a quick intro of ourselves, and then worked in groups to identify successes and challenges of modeling that we experienced last year. There were some common themes as you can see below.



Many of the items off of both lists were things I had encountered in my own classes, so it’s nice to recognize that there are other teachers struggling with the same issues.

At one point, a small SBG discussion sprang up which we continued at lunch. I offered my meager year of experience to those that were interested in adopting it in coming years.

In the afternoon, I met Tyler, my partner in the advanced workshop. He’s a great guy and has a lot of enthusiasm for his profession. I love working with people like that and Tyler is no exception. We were bouncing ideas back and forth for quite a while. Our initial idea was to develop a modeling unit on simple harmonic motion. We’d excitedly generated some cool ideas that required students to call on every single previous representational tool they’d used in the past (motion maps, force diagrams, kinematic graphs, etc.) and then our workshop leader dropped the hammer by revealing the very same material in the Arizona State University modeling curriculum. Ugh. We lost about two hours of work between what we had done and the time we spent trying to salvage it.

Here’s the deal with SHM – all we can really do is change the deployment lab. ASU uses mass on a spring, so we could use a pendulum. Or circular motion viewed edge on. Or a marble rolling in a bowl. But ultimately, they all develop the same oscillatory model which then leads into investigations using the representations mentioned above. It’s the same unit just dressed a bit differently. This is good info to know, but didn’t help our objective of learning to design a modeling unit. We thought about some modern physics topics, electric fields and universal gravitation as alternatives, but settled on our second choice of rotational motion.

With rotation being so large in scope, we’re started working on narrowing it down and are considering something like moment of inertia -> torque -> angular momentum but I’d love to get rolling motion in there. Rolling motion is the bane of introductory physics. We are forced to talk about cars that always have their brakes locked and if you do manage to broach the subject, you hand wave it by saying that static friction is acting on the wheels since they aren’t sliding. Great, but if static friction can’t do work, then why does a rolling car come to  a stop? Have you ever asked kids to explain this? It’s overlooked and I think it needs to be addressed. Hopefully, we can find a way to slot it into the unit.

Summary of first day: Great working with passionate teachers on things we care about. Learned a lot about SHM that didn’t help our unit design. Working on creating a modeling unit for rotational motion.


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